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Tips for sharing your COVID updates

August, 2021

The Prime Minister has announced a COVID-19 Alert Level 4 for the whole country. School-links can support your school to keep everyone informed and safe, via text, email, data-push and now with Facebook integration.

Text: use text for important alerts and to direct your community to email, app and Facebook for more detailed updates over the next few days.

Facebook, data-push (app), emails: in a couple of clicks share ongoing communications across all three platforms – your school Facebook page, the School-links app and via email. Coverage counts.

Target: quickly and easily send updates to groups already set up in your SMS such as year groups who have specific postponements as a result of the lockdown. Keep it relevant.

Remote access: ensure that in the event of snap lockdowns you and your leadership have remote access to all your communication channels, including Facebook. The School-links platform can be accessed online giving you and your team access to text, data-push, Facebook and email all in one place.

A Principal’s experience

Read how the Principal of Papatoetoe High School navigated an outbreak of COVID earlier in the year.

We hope that this three/seven day snap lockdown will have the desired effect and we will be able to return to school next week. In the meantime, if you need any support with your communications, our team are available on [email protected] or call 0800 333 480.

School-links now includes Facebook Integration

August, 2021

Facebook Integration graphic

Exciting new feature for School-links schools: you can now share your communications via your school Facebook page, as well as via text and email.

Next time you visit the School-links Message Centre, you’ll see a new option. Simply tick the box to share your message to your school’s Facebook page, in addition to email and text.

Benefits

  • Your administrator can use one tool to manage all school communication platforms.
  • School communications will be visible to all members of your Facebook group, or the wider community if a public page.
  • Quick and easy to use. In fact, the ‘News’ option on School-links will automatically share news with your Facebook page – you don’t even need to tick the box!
  • You can complement your Facebook posts with emails and texts to remind people to check the school Facebook page for more information, an efficient solution for weather cancellations and updates to emergency situations. All the information in one place rather than spread across a number of emails.

For further information visit your School-links portal, check your emails for the latest School-links newsletter, or contact School-links direct.

When COVID strikes your school: communication and management strategies

May, 2021

Vaughan Couillault, Principal of Papatoetoe High School, shares his experience of navigating an outbreak of COVID that directly impacts a school and community.

Papatoetoe High School, a co-educational year 9–13 school in South Auckland, was thrust into the limelight during the February 2021 COVID outbreak. At 11.30am on February 14th Vaughan received, “a very unpleasant phone call from a very lovely person” and embarked on, “a month’s worth of pain.” A representative of Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) notified Vaughan that there was a student with a positive COVID result at the school and there would be an announcement by the Director General Ashley Bloomfield that afternoon. Vaughan was advised that he would be able to notify the school community thirty minutes prior to the official announcement, giving him about two hours to co-construct a communication with ARPHS.

Communication

Papatoetoe High School uses the School-links Emergency ALERTS system incorporating an app for school leaders to send texts to all parents and students directly from their mobile phones. At 1.15pm Vaughan used the app to text an alert to notify parents and students of the situation and to check their emails for further information. Synced to the school’s student management system, texting ensured that the message got out to everyone prior to the Director General naming Papatoetoe High School as a location of interest, “The Emergency ALERTS system was easy to use and at my fingertips. I’d had it on my phone since we signed up with School-links, and I’d used it during the second lockdown back in August.”

For the next four days, the school consistently used the same approach to communications: a text alert advising recipients to check their email accounts. By the 18th, the school moved to email and Facebook as the pace of communication changed and the community became more attuned to checking social media for updates.

School staff received the information aligned to the families, with the professional ramifications explained so that they were all clear on what was required of them.

As the outbreak progressed and the net was cast wider to include student households, Vaughan and the team relied more and more on the school Facebook page to communicate to the community, “We have since had feedback from local businesses that they looked to our Facebook page rather than the Ministry of Health website or Healthline. It made sense as we were in direct contact with the ARPHS who actually make the decisions on the ground, and we could get the latest updates out that bit faster than the Ministry of Health.”

From the beginning of the situation, Vaughan made a conscious decision that the school should manage communications, “We’ve got the relationship with the families and I felt that communicating with them was our responsibility.” So, whilst the Ministry of Education assisted with security and traffic management at school, and ARPHS concentrated on testing and track and trace, Papatoetoe High School did what a school can do best and sought to keep families up to date and reassured, “We were very contactable and approachable. Any questions people could call me – and one minute after sending that first text I had my first phone call!”

Vaughan also worked with the media, “For the same reason, I wanted to be the person that the community could see, someone they knew. I kept to the facts and if I was asked a question that I couldn’t answer, I would go away and check. We had a lot of support.”

Vaughan also drafted in the school’s student leaders to get key messages out, “We had a team of students that we could trust, and again the families knew them.”

Management

In the first few hours, alongside spreading the word, the school needed to establish a testing centre onsite. The school leadership team was designated ‘essential service status’ and six members of staff formed a work bubble and were permitted to physically meet onsite, with the pre-requisite masks and social distancing. Priority testing was also made available for the senior leadership team, “Throughout the crisis, I could get tested at 9am and have my results back by lunchtime.”

Arriving at school at 7am, with the assistance of the onsite staff, the ARPHS were able to open the onsite testing centre and start swabbing by 9am.

Going forward, each member of the senior leadership team took on a responsibility, “One was in charge of making sure all the students had devices, one liaised with ARPHS track and trace and so on. We worked relentlessly but it wasn’t stressful. We were all quite calm and felt that we had control of the situation.”

One of the key takeaways for Vaughan was that from the time the school gets the dreaded phone call, the school is going to be dealing with the implications for the next month, “You can’t freak out. You just have to accept it will be a month before business as usual and manage the situation. If you don’t, it will be even longer.”

For Papatoetoe High School, this realisation came on the day after the school re-opened on the 22nd. On the Monday everyone who had a test and a negative result was allowed to return to school, and the school successfully screened students on entry watching out for the small numbers yet to be tested or awaiting results. The following day at 11.30am news came through that another student and her siblings had tested positive and everyone needed to be retested, “It was groundhog day. We texted all the families an emergency alert, sent emails and put the announcement on our Facebook page. We kept students at school until 3.15pm, staying in the same classroom that they had been in when we got the announcement. We re-opened our testing station, and at 1.45pm I was the crash test dummy having the first test. We started swabbing at 1.50pm.”

The decision to keep the students at school caused some consternation as misinformation spread about forcing the students to get tested but Vaughan, his reception staff and senior leadership team personally met or spoke with concerned parents to allay any fears.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Vaughan became an expert on the cycles of the virus, “It is useful for schools to know that there is no point getting tested until five days after exposure. Also until five days have passed you are unlikely to be contagious, and this gives you a bit of a window to work with. You don’t need to panic, you have time to put things in order.”

The other eye opener was how a disease outbreak is administered from the government end. The regional public health service runs everything locally, reporting their decisions back to the Ministry of Health who disseminate it through their national channels of communication, meaning that there can be a disconnect for short periods of time, “I’d advise schools to get to know who you can talk to within your regional public health service and work closely with them. Don’t be a barrier, focus on creating a solution – and hopefully you can limit the fallout to four weeks, rather than six.”

Papatoetoe High School re-opened on March 8th with heartfelt messages from its student leaders calling on people to be kind, and Vaughan’s thanks for support and donations, shared across mainstream media. In Vaughan’s words, “You use every tool you’ve got to communicate – text, email and Facebook.” And even the media itself.

Vaughan is happy for schools to contact him for further advice or information.

Tips for a Terrific Term 1

December, 2017

The heat is on and the pressure’s high!

We understand how busy this time of year can be and there is still plenty to do. While we’re all looking forward to getting a break during the holiday season, the team here are not going to take our foot off the gas until we get done what needs to be done.

Here are some ideas that could help you for the beginning of the new school year.

Considerations for Term 1

A helping hand

Did you know you can add pre-enrols to your School-links system and include them in your end-of-year/beginning of Term 1 communications? Manually add them as Caregivers or Associates and make sure you include them in the relevant groups. You’ll need to manually remove them after school starts but that’s not hard. If you need to know more please contact the helpdesk.

If your School-links data is up-to-date then you’ll be able to use the School-links app to send relevant texts for the start of the new year. Download the School-links Emergency Alerts App from iTunes or the Google Play store. Then you can send a text message to remind your school community about stationery purchases/requirements, uniform shop sales/times, start dates for T1 2018 etc, all from your mobile phone (anytime, anywhere).

If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, then you can still send texts or emails from your computer on the School-links portal. Log in and go to Messages > Create Message > Send a text and/or email or both.

It would be a good idea to update your School-links data just prior to school finishing so the most up to date data will be there if you need to send out messages over the holiday break.

There’s nothing like having students turn up on the right day and being prepared, and those pre-term communications are a great way to welcome your students and set them up for the school year.

New communication platform – Beep

Sometime near Term 1, you might notice a few new options in School-links when you send messages. Don’t panic — you can still send out texts and emails as you did before — only now, you can choose to send smartphone push notifications (we call them Beeps).
Find out more about Beep.

Using Parent Interviews Module to set up Uniform Shop allocated times

For schools or centres using School-links Parent Interviews module, are you aware you could use this to set up dates and times for the Uniform Shop, and publicise it prior to the close of school? Just ask if you need more information on this.

Reduce stress levels in an emergency

Whether it be to alert parents after an earthquake or during a lockdown, it is important to have the ability to contact your school community fast and efficiently. The School-links Emergency App and platform enables remote access from school management smartphones to send bulk text alerts to all your parents, staff and students, quickly and securely – in under 30 seconds.

So how does it work? Watch the video here.

Parent Interviews updates for the New Year

There are some updates coming up for Parent Interviews in the New Year that will be of value to current and new users alike. Aside from some enhancements to the look and feel there will be at least one major new feature.

We expect that you will be able to set up interviews where more than one family can book the same time with a teacher. This is something that has been requested by schools who run student-led conferences with multiple families in the classroom at the same time.

If you’re not a current user of Parent Interviews please ask how we can make it part of your plan.

What areas will require updating for 2018?

One of the questions we get asked in the new year is, “what about updating last years’ data?”. If you have been uploading your data file to School-links then you will continue to do that. The standard data upload CSV files sent into School-links will update existing data with new year levels and rooms, as well as any contact detail changes, and leavers will be identified and deleted. All you have to do is upload the datafile as per usual. If you entered anyone manually into School-links, they will remain in the system. They can then be edited or deleted manually; the system will not automatically touch them.

If you have any support issues or need assistance with any of the above areas, have any questions or would love a chat with Keith or Kim, then contact the support desk Toll Free 0800 333 480, or email: [email protected]. They are always eager to assist.

Don’t get caught out! – Email addresses

If an email address in School-links is entered incorrectly it will show “email bouncing’ next to the name in the Caregivers/Teacher lists (under Users & Groups), as the email address has been returned as not valid.

Common issues schools should be aware of when entering (pre-) enrolment data is that:

  1. gmail addresses are always gmail.comnever gmail.co.nz. It will return as undeliverable if you use gmail.co.nz.
  2. gamil.com is a common typo of gmail.com
  3. Xtra addresses are xtra.co.nz, not extra.co.nz
  4. Vodafone has closed down its email services as of 30 November 2017. Affected email domains include clear.net.nz, paradise.net.nz, vodafone.co.nz, vodafone.net.nz, and ihug.co.nz. To ensure delivery of emails you should get caregivers/staff to provide their replacement email addresses. While Vodafone is forwarding emails from the old addresses to the new ones, it’s best to use the new ones. Further information is available here.

The calm during the storm: how communication tools can minimise disruption to your school community

August, 2017

Most of New Zealand has been battered by storms over the last few weeks, from ice and snow closing roads to rain causing flooding, slips and states of emergency being declared across multiple cities and regions.

Fortunately for schools, a lot of this disruption happened during the school holidays. However, forecasters predict that we will likely experience more wild weather this winter, and with the grounds already saturated, it won’t take much to unsettle things again.

Emergency communications checklistDownload the New Zealand school emergency communication check-list.

It is a timely reminder for New Zealand schools to review their communications plans around disruptive weather events, and how they can could impact their school community – such as forced closures or creating dangerous travel conditions. Trying to understand how the the school community reacted to any unscheduled school closures, weather warnings and emergencies is useful:

  • Did parents understand that texts and emails are also school channels of communication and did not clog the phonelines ringing in?
  • Was the school able to warn parents about hazards or road closures that could affect their travel time to school?
  • Did staff understand their responsibilities when flooding made it evident the school needed to close immediately?
  • Did the school have reliable technology and processes in place to quickly reassure parents and communicate actions to take?

If you answered no to any of these questions, may need to implement a system that allows you to communicate to your school community in a quick, efficient and cost-effective manner. School administrators need to be the calm during the storm and ease concerns of parents, students and staff by keeping them updated and informed.

To help encourage effortless communication no matter the situation your school is facing, make sure your plan has the following features:

1. Remote access

Having remote access to a contacts list database will allow staff to access contact details immediately, wherever they may be. The easiest way to do this is by having your database accessible online. This way you don’t need to send anyone in to the school to send out a message – you just need access to the internet.

2. The ability to send one mass message

The most efficient way to notify parents of your school’s closure is to send out one mass notification message to a whole database. Sending an e-mail or text message, rather than relying on website notifications or phone trees, will save a lot of time and resources.

3. Delivery reports

Delivery reports are confirmations that show when each parent receives the text or e-mail. This will notify school staff of any parent who hasn’t received the message and alert them to take action to contact them by another communication channel.

4. Parents have confidence the school will contact them

Constantly remind parents that in the event of a school closure, the school will notify them. If parents do not know that they will be contacted by you, many will attempt to call the school to find out what is happening, resulting in the school phone system being inundated with calls and extra stress put on administration staff.

Being prepared now will save you from having even more stress during an already disruptive situation in the future. Click here to learn more about Newlands School’s experience during the Wellington 2016 earthquake and flooding and how they were able to “stomp on the rumours” and confusion at the time by using effective communication tools.

Learn more about school emergency procedures and lessons New Zealand schools have learned, in the white paper ‘Kia Kaha! Staying in control and effectively responding to emergencies at school’.

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Android

July, 2017

The School-links Emergency Alerts App allows schools to quickly and easily contact parents, caregivers, students and staff in an emergency. This video shows you how to use the App.

 

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Android from Andrew Balfour on Vimeo.

This short video created by School-links demonstrates how to use the Emergency Alerts app on your smartphone or tablet.

Use the Emergency Alerts App to send text messages to staff, caregivers and students in minutes. You will then receive real-time delivery reports to enable you to identify parents who may need to be contacted by phone or email.

If you are unable to enter the school building or if the school network has taken a hit, you can use any smart device on the mobile network.

Examples of use include:

  • school closures
  • natural disasters
  • alerting staff and students to a lockdown unobtrusively

Accessing the Emergency Alerts App

  1. Tap the ‘My Schools’ app icon on your smartphone or tablet.
  2. Tap your School-links account. Note: the first time you log in you will be asked for your username and password, but from then on you will just need your pin code.
  3. If you are linked to more than one school, you will see all the schools listed.
  4. Choose the appropriate school and select ‘Visit as ‘Master’ and your previous messages will display, if any.

How to type an alert

  1. Tap the plus symbol in the top right corner.
  2. Type a message up to 160 characters.
  3. Include the school name or a recognised shortcode, preferably at the beginning of the message, so that parents have confidence about the source and can identify which child/school the message concerns.
  4. Note: in a critical emergency situation, you may not have time to review replies. We recommend that if you have characters available then add ‘Do Not Reply’ or similar.
  5. Click ‘Save’ to come back to the message later or click ‘Save and send’ to broadcast the message immediately.

How to send an alert

  1. First, select your target audience. You can select more than one. Tap again to de-select if you make a mistake. Note that you cannot drill down any further e.g. to year level – messages will simply be sent to everyone in this category.
  2. To send, tap ‘Broadcast Now’. You cannot stop the message after this point. If you do want to edit it before broadcasting, select the back arrow in the top left.
  3. Once you have tapped ‘broadcast’, you will see the message at the top of the list of messages. It will say ‘pending’. After a few moments, if you refresh your screen or go back to the Visit as Master screen and select ‘visit as master’ the message status will say ‘broadcast’.
  4. If you have saved a message previously, it will show up in this list as a draft. You can tap on the message to edit it or broadcast it.

How to access the delivery report

  1. To access a delivery report, log in as previously and tap on the message.
  2. You will see how many were delivered successfully, how many failed and any replies, if you requested a reply.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via our online support forum or free phone number.

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – iPhone/iPad

July, 2017

The School-links Emergency Alerts App allows schools to quickly and easily contact parents, caregivers, students and staff in an emergency. This video shows you how to use the App.

How to use the School-links Emergency Alerts App – Apple/iPhone/iPad from Andrew Balfour on Vimeo.

This short video created by School-links demonstrates how to use the Emergency Alerts app on your iPhone or iPad.

Use the Emergency Alerts App to send text messages to staff, caregivers and students in minutes. You will then receive real-time delivery reports to enable you to identify parents who may need to be contacted by phone or email.

If you are unable to enter the school building or if the school network has taken a hit, you can use any smart device on the mobile network.

Examples of use include:

  • school closures
  • natural disasters
  • alerting staff and students to a lockdown unobtrusively

Accessing the Emergency Alerts App

  1. Tap the ‘My Schools’ app icon on your iphone or ipad.
  2. Note: the first time you log in you will be asked for your username and password, but from then on you will just need your pin code.
  3. If you are linked to more than one school, you will see all the schools listed.
  4. Choose the appropriate school and select ‘Visit as Master User’ and your previous messages will display, if any.

How to type an alert

  1. Tap the ‘new message’ icon in the top right corner
  2. Type a message up to 160 characters.
  3. Include the school name or a recognised shortcode, preferably at the beginning of the message, so that parents have confidence about the source and can identify which child/school the message concerns.
  4. Note: in a critical emergency situation, you may not have time to review replies. We recommend that if you have characters available then add ‘Do Not Reply’ or similar.
  5. Click ‘Save’ to come back to the message later or click ‘Save and broadcast’ to send the message immediately.

How to send an alert

  1. First, select your target audience. You can select more than one. Tap again to de-select if you make a mistake. Note that you cannot drill down any further e.g. to year level – messages will simply be sent to everyone in this category.
  2. To send, tap ‘Broadcast’. You cannot stop the message after this point. If you do want to edit it before broadcasting, select back to ‘Alerts’ in the top left.
  3. Once you have tapped ‘broadcast’, you will see the message and the status will read ‘queued for broadcast’. After a few moments, if you refresh your screen by dragging it down the message status will say ‘broadcast’.
  4. If you have saved a message previously, it will show up in this list as a draft. You can tap on the message to edit it or broadcast it.

How to access the delivery report

  1. To access a delivery report, log in as previously and tap on the message.
  2. You will see how many were delivered successfully, how many failed and any replies, if you requested a reply. As before you can drag the screen down to refresh.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via our online support forum or free phone number.

 

How parent engagement can help with attendance management

July, 2017

How parent engagement can help with attendance management

The recent Ministry of Education report on student attendance rates, also highlighted that Maori and Pasifika students had the lowest attendance rates, with only just over 50 per cent, of these students regularly attending school.

While this is alarming, unfortunately this is not new information. Research into the subject shows that there are a number of factors that play a part in this, but one thing that schools can do to improve student attendance rates is to increase parent engagement with the school and encourage a more culturally inclusive school community.

Is your school putting in enough effort to include parents?

The key influencing predictor to parent support of their child’s learning is not parent or child behaviour or attitudes, but the school’s behaviour and attitude. When parents feel that the school is actively trying to involve them, they generally respond by becoming more involved in their child’s education. You can read one of our previous blogs to see how you can encourage parents to connect.

Unlock the parent potential

As always, communication is the key here. Communities are about relationships. Relationships are about communication. Help your students’ parents feel included and find their identity within their child’s school life through effective, regular communication.

To learn more about effective parent-school communication and strategies to involve parents at school, download the white paper.

Importance of parent engagement for schools

How to empower parents to help reduce truancy in New Zealand

July, 2017

How to empower parents to help reduce truancy in New Zealand

Is Early Notification absent at your school? Increase parent awareness of truancy by keeping them informed with easy communication apps.

A recent Ministry of Education report showed that student attendance rates were falling across New Zealand. 76,500 students were away from school each day in 2016. That equates to 10.2 per cent of students, up from 9.9 per cent in 2015.

Truancy costs schools significant time and resources

For schools that don’t have an early notification system in place and have to follow up on absent students manually, this rise in unexplained absences will also require an increase in time and money spent locating these absent students. For example, a school with a roll of 1000 students with a 10.2 per cent truancy rate can cost the school $20,400 per year in time spent following up and making phone calls. You can see for yourself what this could equate to for your school by using this calculator.

As well as potential significant cost savings to your school by having an early notification attendance management system, there are many other benefits such as student safety and providing a quicker and more convenient method for parents to be aware and respond.

Benefits of Early Notification for parents and caregivers

  • Fast notification of absence (which could potentially be a child safety issue).
  • Parents and caregivers can respond quickly and cost effectively.
  • It’s less embarrassing for them to respond to a text than a phone call if they had forgotten to notify the school of their child’s absence or the reason for the child’s absence is personal.
  • Texting is more convenient for those who are unavailable to respond to personal calls during work or study hours.
  • Feedback from our customers, says that texts are the preferred method of school communication for most parents and caregivers.

Benefits of Early Notification for Schools

  • Less time spent by the Attendance Officer in contacting caregivers of absent students.
  • Less expensive than calling mobile phones.
  • Responses go directly into the Student Management System and are easily viewed by the Attendance Officer, making them efficient to process (service offered by some EN providers).
  • Responses are saved in the Student Notes (service offered by some Student Management Systems).

Click here, to find out more about how an early notification system can help your school.